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La.'s Gov. Jindal Pressures Obama Administration on Vouchers

Washington
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday called on the Obama administration to drop its legal intervention over the state's private school voucher program, saying the effort was "cynical, immoral, and hypocritical."

"They went to federal court in Louisiana to try to trap thousands of children in failing schools," the Republican governor said at an event at the National Press Club. "I'm here to say we're not going away quietly. ... We're going to fight. We're going to go every step of the way to make sure these children have the chance to get a great education."

Jindal was significantly stepping up the pressure on the U.S. Department of Justice to withdraw a motion it filed Aug. 22 in a longstanding statewide desegregation case in Louisiana. The federal government is seeking to enjoin the state from issuing vouchers to students who attend public schools still under federal court supervision for desegregation unless the state gets the approval of the court overseeing the relevant desegregation plan.

The Justice Department told Education Week last week that it was not, as Gov. Jindal has suggested, seeking to prohibit children in substandard schools from taking advantage of the state voucher program championed by the governor. It is concerned with the voucher program's effects on racial balance in schools in some of the 34 Louisiana school districts still under court-supervised desegregation plans, and it is seeking to ensure the voucher program is implemented in a way that is consistent with those plans. [The story is here.)

Louisiana has won an extension of time to respond to the Justice Department's motion and requests for information, and Gov. Jindal said Wednesday that it now has until early November.

The governor explained why he believed the federal government's actions were "cynical, immoral, and hypocritical."

"Let's start with cynical," Jindal said. "This is a program where hundreds of these kids would otherwise be in C, D, or F public schools. ... [The Obama administration is] literally using the laws and lawsuits designed to protect the interests of minority children to try to trap these children in failing schools."

"Why do I suggest this is immoral?" the governor continued. "Our children only grow up once. If we're really serious about breaking the cycle of poverty, if we're really serious about giving these children a chance to do better than their parents, it really starts with giving them a great education."

Jindal said the effort was hypocritical because "the reality is the attorney general, the president, they wouldn't sent their children to these schools."

The Republican governor also asserted, without elaboration, that the federal government's efforts were being done at the bidding of "government unions," by which he evidently meant the teachers' unions, which have traditionally opposed voucher plans.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida also appeared at the event, which was organized by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based reform group that he founded.

"If this was a legitimate lawsuit, then the data would suggest that somehow, some way there has been a resegregation of the schools," Bush said. "But the data doesn't show that at all."

"This is purely political, perhaps payback for political elections of the past," the Republican former governor added, somewhat cryptically. "I have no idea why they would make this decision. But I do know for a fact that we need to transform our education systems, state by state, to assure that more than just 25-30 percent of our kids are college-or career-ready, for them to be successful in life."

Asked about the Justice Department's contention that it was not seeking to keep students from using the vouchers, Jindal gave little ground. He noted that in the department's court papers, it cited two school districts where the voucher program might have had an effect on racial balance last year.

One elementary school in the St. Martin Parish school district lost six African-American students to the voucher program last year, making a mostly white school in a mostly black district even whiter, the Justice Department said. In Tangipahoa Parish, a mostly black elementary school lost five white students to the voucher program last year in a school that already had a substantial majority of black students.

Jindal said the Justice Department is saying "it would be better to force those six black kids in St. Martin Parish to go back to an F-graded school. I'm no lawyer but to me that is legally, factually morally absurd."

"Think about it, the original desegregation cases and the laws were all about saying we don't want these kids to be [kept out] of better schools," the governor said. "So now they're saying we're going to use these laws to force these kids into failing schools."

Jindal said he welcomed a letter this week from Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives to Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding that he justify the department's actions in "undermining choice and opportunity in education."

The only action he wants, the governor said, was for the administration to drop its motion.

"At the end of the day, I want them to drop the lawsuit," Jindal said. "That's the only response I want."

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